September 30, 2014

The Most Important Audience Your Brand Neglects

Quick: name the most important audience your hospital or health system should communicate its brand with on an ongoing basis?

Patients?

Doctors?

Caregivers?

None of the above.

Of course, all these audiences are important to your brand’s success. Patients drive volume, doctors are gatekeepers, and caregivers influence the health care decision.

But the most neglected health care brand audience is also the most persuasive to living your brand.

Your associates.

Chances are, your hospital or health system is one of the largest employers in your area. Thousands of nurses, technicians, and non-clinical staff visit grocery stores, churches and neighborhood cookouts every day. Not to mention interact with patients, caregivers and physicians.

What are your associates sharing about your brand?

Forbes magazine says that nursing is the second most unhappiest profession.

Are your nurses advocates of your brand?

It used to be that Marketing and Human Resources didn’t work collaboratively. HR had its own approach for recruitment advertising, and Marketing didn’t involve HR in its branding efforts. Fortunately, many health systems are now more enlightened.

Hospitals are service brands: their brands are created through the actions and engagement of associates and physicians, every day.

The best brand “campaign” is experience. When you’ve had a wonderful dining experience, or have been treated amazingly well at a hotel, aren’t you enthusiastic about sharing that experience with friends and family? But when’s the last time you got on Facebook to champion a fantastic print ad you saw in People magazine?

Your associates are your brand. So what are you doing to cultivate them?

We’re delighted that Marketing departments are now participating in employee engagement strategies. This is a contrast to the mindset that marketing was an activity that occured only outside of the hospital, on television or on the radio.

When marketing has the chance to shape patient experience, amazing things happen to brands.

And part of that patient experience occurs when marketing has a focused approach to engaging associates.

CHI Memorial in Chattanooga, TN focused first on employees when it re-launched its brand two years ago. The system was in a time of transition: expanding key services while navigating the changes in Population Health. Associates at CHI Memorial, like at most health systems, felt the sting of change.

Rather than focus its branding first on patient audiences, the traditional approach, CHI Memorial chose to focus its communications efforts inward. This approach helped the system to reconnect with its most important brand asset, its workforce, and to re-energize the brand from within to achieve its long-term growth strategy.

Following are key insights gleaned from this “frontlines” branding model along with approaches to execute these techniques to increase employee morale, build long-term patient loyalty, and grow share of market.

Lisa McCluskey, MBA, Vice President, Marketing Communications at CHI Memorial, and her team, partnered with HR to identify associates to participate in internal focus groups. Associates represented management and non-management positions, along with clinical and non-clinical, and represented each campus. The focus groups provided meaningful dialogue about the challenges that the associates faced, which HR and the C-suite were able to use to help with engagement opportunities.

The focus groups also explored CHI Memorial’s brand and positioning. Employees noted the system’s faith-based mission and core values: reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence. “It’s a difference here you can feel,” observed one employee. Employees felt that they contributed every day to the culture of caring at the health system.

“Memorial Starts with Me” became the campaign’s positioning statement. This positioning strategy worked for several reasons: it unified Memorial’s employees by acknowledging that it is they who are on the front lines every day delivering exceptional patient care. Secondly, the positioning validated what consumers already believed about CHI Memorial’s unique and coveted approach to patient care, which was documented in separate focus groups with consumer audiences.

The resulting brand campaign was launched internally, within the two hospital campuses and satellite facilities.

CHI Memorial placed posters and banners in high traffic area—lobbies, waiting areas, elevators. The elements featured employee photos and testimonials, in their own words. A special video was filmed and shown to employees during the campaign launch and later placed on the hospital’s website and YouTube channel. The video featured employees describing what “Memorial Starts with Me” means to them. Memorial was intentional in only filming “frontlines” brand ambassadors.The campaign brought pride and ownership to Memorial’s employees. It encouraged “branded moments” with patients.

With internal brand expectations set, the second year of the campaign brought associate passions to life with an external campaign targeting consumers: television, print, radio, online. The second phase also featured new technology and services to increase overall awareness and perceptions of CHI Memorial’s leading-edge capabilities. Because the associates were so central to the first phase of the branding, they were more likely to recommend and support the organization’s external-based campaigns. Synergy of brand position occured because Memorial focused first on its associates.

Since the campaign launched, employee engagement is up, CHI Memorial continues to grow share of market for key services, and recently opened a seven-story heart and vascular tower, an important milestone in Memorial’s continued legacy.

The campaign also achieved many positive unintended consequences. Within the first week of the internal campaign’s launch, doctors at competing hospitals got word of the campaign and told administrators at the other hospitals that Memorial is doing the right thing by championing its associates. Staff from CHI Memorial were approached by complete strangers and were thanked for the words they shared about their approach to patient care, based on the testimonials featured on the posters and banners.

Given the tumultuous state of health care, brand alignment has never been more critical. As you look to your next branding effort, consider starting with your health system’s most important audience: the employees who bring your brand to life every day.

Franklin Street is pleased to announce that partners Stephen Moegling and Tim Roberts will present a case study of the “Memorial Starts with Me” campaign at the 2014 Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Conference with friend and client, Lisa McCluskey, MBA. Click here learn more about the campaign.

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